Local funding is the biggest roadblock in expanding Chattanooga's public transportation offerings, according to Chattanooga Area Regional Transport Authority Executive Director Tom Dugan.
"Our biggest issue is local funding," he said. "And it's been my biggest failure not getting more local funding."
Dugan, who has been CARTA's executive director since 1980, recently made a presentation to the Brainerd/East Brainerd Council of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce where he discussed potential transportation growth in the East Hamilton area.
"CARTA has no other reason to exist than to support people's activity," he said. "One thing the Chamber suggested that I thought was interesting is a downtown-type shuttle system in the Hamilton Place area where we would try to create a system where people could park once and move around easily throughout this fairly large retail area."
Despite a growth in demand, CARTA has not expanded service of the regular bus routes in 26 years, he said. The organization is currently looking at ways to plan strategically and develop a list of priorities to dictate what ways CARTA could grow if funding was available.
"We haven't really been making priorities because there was no funding to consider," he said. "But if we always use the excuse of funding, we'll never get anything done."
Within the next year Dugan said he anticipates CARTA will hold public hearings or other focus groups to find out what people would like to see the organization offer, particularly in the East Hamilton area. Those concerns will ideally be addressed in some sort of plan, he said.
"This is going to be a key year to go out and start asking for input on what this community wants," he said. "What the business community wants, what the residential community wants, what the medical and governmental communities want and so forth."
When asked how long it would take to implement a new route or service if it was determined a priority, Dugan said the timeline would vary depending on support for the project.
"If the idea is backed up by political will, which means resources, it could be as short as 12 months," he said. "If we're going to do something like a shuttle service out here, I would want to try to find that funding source at the same time, not go off of taxes."
Dugan listed some of the parking lots downtown and the Incline Railway as revenue generators that help the organization provide the services it does. CARTA is also funded by the federal, state, county and city governments.
According to Dugan,the reason CARTA service was not expanded to Enterprise South as had been previously discussed is because both the city and Volkswagen decided against funding the project.
"Volkswagen rejected it because they're used to the European market where government pays all the costs, and the city rejected it because they thought they'd done enough."
For more information about CARTA routes and services, visit www.carta-bus.org.
One East Hamilton service CARTA Executive Director Tom Dugan said people may not be aware of is the Dial-a-Ride Route that runs in the Hamilton Place Area from Standifer Gap Road to East Brainerd Road and from Hickory Valley Road to Jenkins Road. People within the service area can call 629-1487 to be picked up in their neighborhood and utilize the handicapped-accessible service, which ends at Hamilton Place Mall.